APRIL 28, 2004
By: Herbert Lowe
A New Jersey man pleaded guilty to manslaughter yesterday in the 1999 beating death of Manhattan community activist Armando Perez.
When Mr. Perez punched me in my face, I lost it, Shaguye Colbert, 29, of Newark, told Justice Robert Hanophy in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens.
I didn't mean to kill him, Colbert said as Perez's widow and several of her supporters looked on. He hurt me and I intended to hurt him back.
Perez, 51, was killed on April 3, 1999, in front of the Ravenswood Houses in Long Island City.
A democratic district leader on the Lower East Side, Perez was visiting his wife, Marianne, when he became involved in a random dispute with Colbert, who was leaning on Perez's car, prosecutors said.
Colbert will be sentenced to 10 years in prison on June 16.
Malik Hill, 26, also of Newark, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in June for helping Colbert beat Perez to death. Hill, who is awaiting sentencing, was to testify against Colbert as part of the plea deal calling for Hill to spend 8 years in prison.
Police initially arrested four men in the case based on two witnesses' accounts. Prosecutors dismissed the charges after a new witness identified Colbert, who in turn led police to Hill.
I'm not letting these four boys go down for a murder they didn't commit, Colbert's attorney, Todd Greenberg, quoted his client as telling authorities in 2002 from the New Jersey jail where he was serving time after pleading guilty to complicity to a robbery.
Perez ran with a street gang for a time before turning to community activism. In 1979, he helped convert a dilapidated school building in Manhattan into Charas/El Bohio, a center for struggling painters, dancers and actors.
Marianne Perez, 47, Councilwoman Margarita Lopez (D-Manhattan) and nearly a dozen supporters said after Colbert's plea that he showed too little remorse.
He may have been sentenced to 10 years, but I hope that it's a life sentence, Marianne Perez said, that he doesn't ever walk out of there alive. It may sound bitter, but I'm angry.
Lopez cried from her courtroom seat as Colbert spoke. It blows me away that the man doesn't have any remorse, she said.